Touch of the Beggar's Hand

I'm an insurance man; been at it for 9 years now. The pay is good and the work is steady, but the travel is awful. Seems I can't go a month without being sent out to Aunt May's Flea-infested Bed and Breakfast in historic Nowheresville, or the Tumbleweed Tumbledown Motel in scenic Hayseedtown. But every once in a while, they put me up real nice in a posh joint in the city. Why it's probably been two years since they've done that though. In fact, yes, I remember the last time:

I had arrived early and decided to take a turn around the city.  There's something about those unnaturally tall buildings--packed so tight together and blocking out the sunlight--that can give even me-- urbane as I am--a slight shortness of breath and a chill up my spine...when I get to thinking about it anyway.

I must've taken a wrong turn somewhere for I found myself in the cracked-masonry and broken-window district. Now, don't get me wrong--I can take care of myself when I get in a pinch but I had a meeting to get back to and it wouldn't do to show up with a wrinkled shirt, or worse, so I took what looked like the quickest road back. When suddenly, I spied a man. A poor vagabond seated in a flimsy wheel chair. Ragged clothes and a downcast face.

Who knows why this scruffy creature caught my eye when I've shuffled past thousands of winos, panhandlers, and third-rate musicians with their opened instrument cases. But I decided to take a closer look.

I approached slowly, almost tiptoeing. I was surprised to find that this defeated vagabond was but a young man, perhaps even younger than myself. Why, I wondered, does a young man, in the prime of his life, give up the normal life for beggary?  Poverty? Drugs? The bottle? Maybe it was his family; perhaps he was a victim of abuse and neglect. Or was he a veteran of war, disabled and broken, unable to adapt to everyday living.

I was ready to pass on this sorry creature--dismissing my first impulse as a delusion--when something struck my eye.

On the ground lay a threadbare blanket with spread an odd array of objects the man had carefully crafted. It was a pitiful sight, but at the same time, not without some nobility. Rather than beg, the man was peddling his crafts.

Amongst the items was a tiny carving of seagulls. With his trembling hands and shaky head it must've taken him hours to shape.

“Is this for sale?” I asked.  The man nodded, still looking down at the ground.  I pulled out a wad of cash from my pocked.  “How much do you want for it?”

The man looked at me. It was then that I realized he was blind! 

“I ask for no charity,” he said.  “You may pay me what you wish.”

Tears swept my eyes. I paid the man for the carving, slipped it in my coat pocket and returned to the hotel.

I keep the carving on my mantle as a symbol: a symbol that each of us is a weak, dependent creature. That much of our own success and failure in life comes not from our own hard work or laziness but that roulette-wheel of life we call fate. That, in a way, we are all vagabonds, reduced to begging for our daily bread from the Almighty, or mother nature, or the universe or whatever you want to call it.

It also reminds me of the down on his luck man who sold it to me for 31 cents.